VOORHEES, N.J. – Sean Couturier hasn’t scored a goal yet this season. He has just three assists in 10 games. On the surface, he seems to be a product of a team that got off to one of the worst starts in franchise history.
And yet, his head coach believes he’s been one of the best players on the Flyers over the course of the three weeks since the coaching change was made.
And the coach would be correct.
All it took was a philosophical change in the approach to Couturier’s game.
Rather than continue to push Couturier to be an offensive-minded player, as had been the case previously, Berube decided to ask Couturier to go back to doing the things that made him successful as a rookie – and its paid dividends.
Now in his third season, Couturier is in his happy place again. A shutdown center who can create offense off of his defensive play flanked by two other solid two-way forwards who have the ability to score goals in Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds.
It’s probably the line combination that Berube trusts the most right now – evident by Couturier leading the Flyers forwards in ice time (20:03) in the win in New York.
“He’s playing really well,” Berube said. “He’s also in great shape and can skate all night. He seems a lot more comfortable with himself now and he’s doing a great job.”
Particularly Saturday, Berube got him on the ice as often as possible against reigning Hart Trophy winner John Tavares.
The Islanders captain struggled to generate much of anything – especially against Couturier.
But it wasn’t just his defensive game that was spot on. He was the Flyers best faceoff guy, clicking at 59 percent. He also took the most draws of any center in the game, and was involved in a handful of Flyers scoring chances that didn’t go into the net.
“Sometimes people expect more out of you on one side of the ice than the other or vice versa,” Couturier said. “Now I’m just focused on what I have to do – take care of the little details. With that defensively it’s been great so far and offensively too. I haven’t been able to get onto the stat sheet, but I’ve created chances and had some chances. I just have to be patient there because it will come.”
Like it did in his rookie season.
Couturier surprised so many people as an 18-year-old making the Flyers out of training camp. In that rookie campaign he played 77 games and posted 13 goals and 14 assists for 27 points. He added a playoff hat trick to boot.
But based on that sensation rookie campaign, the Flyers maybe pushed too hard too quick and Couturier struggled to be a more offensive-minded player and that hurt his game on the defensive side of the puck.
But now that Berube is in charge, Couturier is back doing what made him such a breakout rookie as a teenager, and the role fits like a pair of slippers.
“I feel more confident and comfortable,” Couturier said of his new (old) role. “I’m looser out there and having more fun. The more you play, you feel better out there and get to know the guys you are playing better… Things have been going pretty well lately.”
Being partnered with Read and Simmonds have really made Couturier stand out. It’s a nice mix of playing styles between the three and they seem to really click.
“They’re both 20 goal scorers and they know where to go on the ice to get some goals and get some points,” Couturier said. “But they’re great two-way players too. We’re doing a nice job as a line playing against the top lines and not giving up too many chances and that’s a credit to all three of us.”
And it’s a credit to the coaching staff for putting that trio together to make for an excellent third line.
Assistant Coach Ian Laperriere has been a big help for Couturier as well, bringing a supporting voice to him as a coach who recently stepped away from the game as a player.
Laperriere likes to tell young players, as he did when he was the Flyers director of player development, that they need to “find their chair.” In other words, where they should sit on the organizational depth chart and understand their role.
He says that sometimes it takes young players awhile to figure out just where that chair is and what kind of a chair it is.
For now, Couturier looks to have found his, but he still has aspirations that he can graduate to a bigger seat down the road.
“I’m starting to feel more comfortable around here,” he said. “You can always give more and get better. I’m still a young player. I’m going to keep trying to get better every day. You don’t want to just sit in that chair forever. You want to keep improving, get up and go up the stairs and be the best you can be.”
To Contact Anthony SanFilippo, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers
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